Sometimes packing for a day in the Disney parks isn’t, well, a walk in the park.  If touring with littles, you may be traveling with a pack full of diapers, snacks, bottles, etc.  If traveling with a little princess, a couple of wardrobe changes may be necessary.  When perusing the parks with a photographer, you may be toting multiple lenses, a tripod and your trusty DSLR.  Whatever your needs, here are a few pros and cons to help you find that perfect Disney Parks bag.


The workhorse of all park bags, this classic choice is most often hoisted on mom or dad’s back and filled with every possible thing a family would need for the day.  Extra clothes, baby wipes (which I still carry even though my “baby” is now eight), snacks, autograph books and the family cam are all typical contents of the park pack.


The Pros

I love a hands-free bag!  Throw it on your shoulders, and you’re free to hold hands with the kiddos, snap some pics or carry your giant souvenir bucket of popcorn down Main Street USA.  After you eat all the popcorn, you can attach the bucket to your backpack!  Backpacks are also usually large enough to pack quite a bit, as well.  A nice choice if you have to take a small closet with you into the parks for lunch with the princesses.

Backpack just for Disney nerds

The Cons

Of course, when packing that backpack full of Disney magic, it can get really heavy really quickly, which can be murder on your shoulders and back.  Bribe any other adults to take turns or consider two backpacks to spread the haul.  Also, be careful with those full backpacks!  I’ve seen many a child smacked in the head with a quick change of direction.

Drawstring backpacks are a nice, light option when you just plan to take a few things into the parks.


Get Park Wise: A backpack with lots of zippers and compartments may seem like a great idea at first, especially for those of us crazy organizers.  Just remember that each time you take that bad boy through bag check, you can and probably will be asked to open Every.  Single.  Pocket. Something to take into account when choosing your bag.

Messenger Bags

Offering differing sizes and a little more stylish than our other bags, this cross-body option is another popular choice, especially among the ladies.  This is what I carry in the parks, although I haven’t found my perfect one just yet.


The Pros

Retro Mickey Mini Messenger Bag

Again, hands-free!  Where this bag trumps the backpack for me is the easy access.  Instead of having to stop, take the bag off my shoulders and unzip the pockets to retrieve something, I can do it all on the go.  I just stick my hand in the bag as I’m walking since it’s sitting right there on my hip.  This is especially useful for carrying my camera (and my lip gloss!), as I can whip it out at a moment’s notice.


The Cons

Again, depending on what’s in your bag, a messenger can do a number on your neck or shoulder and leave you feeling a little unbalanced since it shifts the weight to one side.  Depending on your size, it can also be challenging to find a bag with a comfy fit.  Taking into account your height and/or weight, you’ll need to look for a bag with a long enough strap.


This is usually a mom choice.  An often open-top bag with enough room to put a small child and then throw it over your shoulder.  With gift shops almost constantly offering totes as their purchase with purchase offer, I see a ton of these around the parks.


The Pros

Easy access!  Since totes are often just one big compartment, you can just throw in your park map, junior’s extra clothes and a couple of bottles of water, and off you go.  They’re also usually pretty good-sized options, so you can put a lot in them.


The Cons

Although in theory, you can slip the bag on your shoulder and go, I always feel the need to keep a hand on the straps just in case it starts to slip off my shoulder.  Not so great if you have little hands to hold or if that Dole Whip is calling your name.  Face it, that’s a two-handed snack.  One of the pros is also a con.  The fact that you can throw everything into this bag quickly since it’s just one big pocket also means it can be difficult trying to find what you threw in there in the first place.

And the photographer just happened to catch my tote slipping off my shoulder.


Get Park Wise: Toting a tote through the parks?  Consider a few smaller bags inside to make finding things easier.  All the snacks in a zip top bag; sunscreen, sanitizer and wipes in a small cosmetic case, etc.

Fanny Pack

Pull your socks up, fix your sandals, adjust your Aloha shirt and strap on this little genius!  Fanny packs may get some grief, but they can actually be pretty useful.  Not that I know from personal experience.  😉

The Pros

Could not be more convenient!  Hands-free, no way to to over pack it, perfectly located.  Cash, cards, a point and shoot camera and a dream fit right on your waist.  Since it’s stuck to your body, there’s very little chance of walking off and leaving it sitting on a park bench, and I bet no thieves are going to try and pilfer your pack, either.


The Cons

Well, yeah, it’s dorky.  But, remember, we’re at Disney and embracing the geekiness, right?  The size may also be a deterrent for some park goers.  I simply need more storage space, so that’s the only reason I won’t be donning a fanny pack any time soon.  Yep.

What do you carry in the parks?  Or maybe you just rely on what you can stuff in your pockets?  Let’s hear it!

  • eicarr

    I stuff cliff bars in my pockets or items in my girlfriends purse. I’ve used clip-on mini sunscreen bottles and sunglass cases, but I feel too dorkey doing that these days. I only buy items on the way out. I go to DL where I’m never far away from items in my room.

  • gboiler1

    Fortunately my daughter is 15, so I no longer take a bag to the parks. I just don’t want to be bothered with carrying one so if it doesn’t go in my pockets, its not going and I don’t load up my pockets either.
    Cargo shorts are a good way to go if you need to extra room. I have done fanny packs which aren’t bad, but you still have to go thru bag check. They do hide nicely under many tee shirts and camp type shirts.
    When she was little a back pack was necessary, but found we probably over packed and didn’t most the stuff we thought we might need afterall.

    • I would love to hit the parks with nothing but what fits in my pockets, but I just can’t seem to do it. Haha! Even on trip without the kids, I can’t bear not have my gear.

      • gboiler1

        I know Jessica, I have many items on the dresser and have to remind myself what I really will need and what’s a waste of pocket space.
        The longer Magic Bands are around, the more likely I’ll be to even leave my money/credit card clip in the room!

  • DebG

    gboiler1 hit it on the head,you really don’t need to carry as much stuff as you think.I try to carry things in the smallest packages possible. I am always on the hunt for what I call “Roller Coaster bags”,small, cross shoulder bags with multiple compartments.I also have an over the shoulder soda carrier.I look a little like Rambo with the straps across my body but its easier on my back (and my mood).

    • Too funny! I carried a Vera Bradley Hipster for a while, and it fit easily into the little nets. I could even keep it on my body. I wanted something a little bigger for my camera, so I tried a Thirty-One Foldover last fall, and it worked pretty well.

      • gboiler1

        I like the body glove bags too. Smaller than a bulky backpack but big enough to toss in your slightly buklier items. The shape of the bags makes them easier to handle too.

  • MikeT1975

    Mesh Jansport backpack:

    It breathes well in the hot Florida (or, California) sun. Yes, people can see what you have in it but that’s also an advantage: you can always see which pocket you put stuff in! Pack it lightly or else you lose the breatheable advantage.

    …Its also really great for the beach – the sand falls right out of it!

    • snookers

      MikeT – what a great idea! I love the fact that the bag check is easy as security can see exactly what you have inside without having to open it. My only concern is those unpredictable Florida rain showers… I like having the waterproof protection for my camera and cell phone with a regular backpack.

      • DobbysCloset

        Here’s what’s in the pockets of my cargo shorts or my mostly-empty backpack: Pocket Camera with extra rechargable batteries. Sunscreen. Chap Stick. ID/Credit Card. Dry socks. Ziplocs of all sizes. Flip Flops. Case for glasses. Key to room or car. Fortunately I do not do phones, pads, tablets, Nintendo or other portable devices.

        Mom is not a pack mule!

        Jessica, love the bag selections!

      • Good point. Maybe zip top bags would come in handy here.

    • Nice suggestion! Thanks for posting it!

  • DisWedWay

    I love my light WW11 Army Green pack used on one shoulder, with my Mickey Mouse Ski Club patch from the late 70’s and my PICO patch sewn on it along with other ski patches. I need to put on other Disney embroidered patches I’ve gotten over the years, like my ” I skied Space Mountain” from Florida, and my “River Country” patches as well. Freezer Zip Locs keep my frozen water Snapple bottles cold for about 8 hours inside. They keep my food leftovers cold as well and can hold post card and purchased items from damage. It also protects my camera items.

    • DisWedWay

      PS I have seen some great WW11 Disney Character patches from different Squadrons and service branches that would match my vintage Army pack. Disney should market a patch pack for all their cloth patches. Let me know if you need any ideas for it.

    • Sounds like a fun bag full of history!

  • I often use a messenger bag in the parks. Keep a camera, digestion pills, sunscreen and powerbars in there (sometimes a rolled up hat as well just in case I need it). So much better than renting a locker.

    • Yeah, we’re not the locker type at all. I prefer having everything I might possibly need (EVERRR) in my possession.

  • amyuilani

    I have a purse-size messenger bag with an adjustable strap for length. The strap can be longer when it’s emptier, or shorter when it’s heavier so there is less awkward pull on my neck. It is deep enough so that no one can just reach a hand in and grab something. It zips up so that I don’t have to worry about things falling out on the ride. My camera is a little bigger than the average digital, but it takes great pics, so I don’t want to be without it. It does require extra AA batteries, which can get heavy. The bag also holds a water bottle comfortably, as well as a small snack. The nice thing about this is as the day goes on, the bag gets lighter because I am offloading batteries and will eventually chuck the bottle and snacks. The most important thing about this bag is ensuring I remove my necessary cards and cash and put them into a card holder and coinpurse, respectively. I don’t need tons of loyalty cards at Disneyland, and the lack of bulk and weight are perfect. All I really carry in the bag are money, camera, phone, charger, snack, small brush, small hand lotion, lip gloss, and mints. Those are my daily necessities. Otherwise, I carry a sweater or long-sleeve shirt around my waist, and if I feel the need to have long pants or other clothes, I get a locker. It’s true that you don’t need as much as you think. it feels very freeing to be in the park with the lightest of bags.

  • BradyNBradleysMom

    You know, Jessica, I don’t know how you do it. You always think up the best ideas for columns. You always make me think of ways I can improve our time in the parks with these simple little changes. I just love you!

  • holierthanthoutx

    We generally carry one backpack for the entire family. And it rarely contains more than cameras and sunscreen, unless it might rain, in which case we’ll toss in ponchos and/or umbrellas. The most useful function for the backpack is a place to stash any purchases we might make, although we generally wait until the end of the day before buying anything, just so we don’t have to carry it around all day.

    No drinks (water fountains are free), no snacks (children eat at mealtimes and usually an afternoon treat, but don’t need to continuously snack throughout the day). No gaming devices or e-readers (we’re in the theme park, for Pete’s sake!).

    Days when we’re not planning to be in the parks all day, or when we know we won’t need sunscreen or umbrellas, we’ll often go bag-free. We’ll use iPhones for cameras on those days, and we don’t need anything else that doesn’t fit in the pocket of a pair of shorts.

    • Maybe someday I’ll get to the parks with just what’s in my pockets…but then I’ll need bigger pockets. 😉

  • mousewaffle

    I wanted a bag that was:

    1. Light, small and foldable enough to fit into the pouches at the Indiana Jones ride
    2. Keep items dry – during Grizzly River Run/Splash Mtn.
    3. Big enough to hold a winbreaker, lunch and a few medium sized souvenirs (couple t-shirts and a mug) or maybe a tightly folded blanket for laying upon.
    4. Extra zip pocket to keep more secure items from falling out and separate from above. (e.g. camera, cellphone)
    5. Drink holder side pocket for slipping in a water bottle
    6. Easily searchable so that wouldn’t spend too much time in security check
    7. Easily slingable over one or both shoulders
    8. Could be used in other non-disney scenarios.

    And am quite happy with this:

    The drawstrings are wider so they won’t dig into one’s back like the thin-stringed ones tend to do. Also it cinches up rather well and stays closed. And I can squash it easily into the forward storage compartment of Indy’s car. 🙂

    • Looks like a nice (and very affordable!) option! It’s pretty similar to the Eddie Bauer bag my gramma carries at the parks. She liked it so much she carries it daily now. Haha!

  • AvidTurtleTalker

    I have one of the 50th Anniversary backpacks. It has on large pocket and two smaller pockets in front. It’s perfect for me in that it holds my essentials (refillable water bottle, camera, flip flops, jacket) and has plenty of room left. In the front pockets I keep my keys and when we get on more extreme rides, it’s perfect for my phone and wallet. Last but not least, it’s practically waterproof! This is especially important for me as I frequent Splash Mountain and Grizzly River Run.

  • Freddie Freelance

    Let me second that Con for backpacks: I don’t think I’ve ever spent a day in Disneyland where I didn’t get smacked by someone’s giant overstuffed backpack, usually in the queue for Peter Pan. People just don’t seem to understand that they’re taking up twice as much space as they normally do, or that they’re smacking everyone around them every time they turn around.

    I’m a “fill my pockets and go” kind of guy, but when I’ve got my Gran’daughter I need to bring a few more things, and I like to use a messenger bag with a shaped strap to keep it closer to my body so I’m not bumping into anyone else with it.

  • daveyjones

    my partner rolls with one of her small world lesportsac backpacks if she needs a layer for later in the evening. if it’s warm enough to loose the layer, a ‘WDW airlines’ messenger bag usually does the trick. if we’re only stopping in at night for a few hours, just one of her shag tiki room purses will do (she prefers the smaller 40th anniversary ones, but the new larger 50th comes out on occasion too).

    as for me, i gave up using a backpack years ago. just a blazer on with hands in my pockets.

  • Graham Best

    I use a ScotteVest Travel Vest:

    Hands free
    Security doesn’t ask to look through it at the security checkpoint
    Can take it on rides
    Sleeves are detachable to adjust for changes in weather
    Holds an impressive amount of gear
    You don’t have to remove it like a backpack to access items
    Doesn’t look dorky

    Doesn’t hold as much as a backpack, but you can probably get by with a smaller bottle of suntan lotion than a large bottle.

    • holierthanthoutx

      I think that ScotteVest might be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I’d say it was perfect for travel, except my rather large DSLR camera (and multiple lenses) wouldn’t fit comfortably. But for travel without the camera, it looks amazing!

    • Interesting choice! Wondering if it gets a little warm on your trunk/torso.

  • tgdiver

    I have a small REI backpack. I hate purses, and this one is just large enough for my Kindle, a few tiny bottles of things like ibuprofen and vitamins (I get there early!), reading glasses, with room for small purchases. No camera – my phone works great, and my cargo shorts hold slim wallet and phone. Oh yeah, in summer, a few zip bags for safety on Grizzly and Splash. I prefer to travel light, but do need a few essentials.

    • Sounds like you’ve found a great option for your park days.

  • QPerth

    What a great little article!! On our last Disney Park visit, 5 days in Disneyland Paris during deliciously cold February, I used a Messenger Bag, a little bit smaller than the size of the Poster Art of the Disney Parks book. One flap held with a button, 2 large zippered compartments insided, a small buttoned pocket for camera under that main flap, and an easy access zipper pocket on it’s back. Held our Park guides, umbrella, wallets, phones, camera, and reservation notes. It was great!

    Debating whether to use the same Messenger bag on our next Disney Park visit, or use the nice Disneyland Paris blue backpack I bought while on that trip. To be honest, I think I’ll stick with the non/Disney messenger. One strap and easy side access is hard to be beat!

    • I love a messenger bag!! It’s the quick access that sells me every time!